Tag Archives: brain

Sing your way to better health – AHA

Not everyone can sing like a nightingale. When some of us try to carry a tune, we sound like Bob Dylan imitating Elmer Fudd.

Still, no matter the sound, experts say we should limber up our larynxes more often. According to a growing body of research, bursting into song is good for both your body and your brain.

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“Singing a song that we know by ourself or with others triggers the reward system in the brain and releases dopamine that makes us feel better,” said Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, who studies brain imaging and music at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

One great thing about singing is you can reap the benefits anytime, anywhere. When COVID-19 sent society into lockdown mode last year, people around the globe belted out songs from their balconies to relieve stress and anxiety.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re singing in a public group or you’re alone in the car singing (along) with Michael Jackson. It’s all beneficial,” said Kay Norton, a professor of musicology at Arizona State University who studies the healing power of music.

Nobody knows exactly when humans first started singing on a regular basis. But in recent decades, scientists have studied its benefits in a range of areas, from relieving pain to minimizing snoring and helping improve posture and muscle tension.

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Research links personality traits and hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease

New research from the Florida State University College of Medicine found that changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease are often visible early on in individuals with personality traits associated with the condition.

The study focused on two traits previously linked to the risk of dementia: neuroticism, which measures a predisposition for negative emotions, and conscientiousness, which measures the tendency to be careful, organized, goal-directed and responsible.

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“We have done studies showing who’s at risk of developing dementia, but those other studies were looking at the clinical diagnosis,” said Antonio Terracciano, professor of geriatrics at the College of Medicine. “Here, we are looking at the neuropathology; that is, the lesions in the brain that tell us about the underlying pathological change. This study shows that even before clinical dementia, personality predicts the accumulation of pathology associated with dementia.”

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Sense of purpose associated with better memory

Add an improved memory to the list of the many benefits that accompany having a sense of purpose in life.

A new study led by Florida State University researchers showed a link between an individual’s sense of purpose and his ability to recall vivid details. The researchers found that while both a sense of purpose and cognitive function made memories easier to recall, only a sense of purpose bestowed the benefits of vividness and coherence.

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The study, which focused on memories related to the COVID-19 pandemic, was published in the journal Memory.

“Personal memories serve really important functions in everyday life,” said Angelina Sutin, a professor in the College of Medicine and the paper’s lead author. “They help us to set goals, control emotions and build intimacy with others. We also know people with a greater sense of purpose perform better on objective memory tests, like remembering a list of words. We were interested in whether purpose was also associated with the quality of memories of important personal experiences because such qualities may be one reason why purpose is associated with better mental and physical health.”

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Nature-based activities can reduce anxiety and improve mood – Study

As a person who spends hours riding his bike along the Chicago Lakefront with beautiful Lake Michigan on one side and the Chicago Park District on the other I can attest that the surroudings contribute greatly to my enjoyment.

Outdoor nature-based activities are effective for improving mental health in adults, including those with pre-existing mental health problems, a new study has found. The study showed that outdoor activities in groups were the most beneficial for mental health.

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The research – led by the University of York – showed that taking part in outdoor, nature-based activities led to improved mood, less anxiety, and positive emotions.


The study found that activities lasting for 20 to 90 minutes, sustained for over the course of eight to 12 weeks, have the most positive outcomes for improving mood and reducing anxiety.

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Young Athletes with History of Concussions May Have More Changes to Their Brains

Despite my advanced years, with my family’s history of Alzheimer’s and dementia, I confess that anything that affects the brain gets my attention.

A new study suggests athletes with a history of concussion may show more brain injury from a later concussion, particularly in middle regions of the brain that are more susceptible to damage, when compared to athletes with no history of concussion. The research is published in the August 25, 2021, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The athletes participated in sports like football, volleyball and soccer.

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We know concussions may have long-term effects on the brain that last beyond getting a doctor’s clearance to return to play,” said study author Tom A. Schweizer, PhD, of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada. “It is unclear, however, to what extent the effects of repeated concussion can be detected among young, otherwise healthy adults. We found even though there was no difference in symptoms or the amount of recovery time, athletes with a history of concussion showed subtle and chronic changes in their brains.”

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Motivation depends on how brain processes fatigue

How do we decide whether or not an activity which requires work is ‘worth the effort?’ Researchers at the University of Birmingham & University of Oxford have shown that the willingness to work is not static, and depends upon the fluctuating rhythms of fatigue.

Fatigue – the feeling of exhaustion from doing effortful tasks – is something we all experience daily. It makes us lose motivation and want to take a break. Although scientists understand the mechanisms the brain uses to decide whether a given task is worth the effort, the influence of fatigue on this process is not yet well understood.

The research team conducted a study to investigate the impact of fatigue on a person’s decision to exert effort. They found that people were less likely to work and exert effort – even for a reward – if they were fatigued. The results are published in Nature Communications.

Intriguingly, the researchers found that there were two different types of fatigue that were detected in distinct parts of the brain. In the first, fatigue is experienced as a short-term feeling, which can be overcome after a short rest. Over time, however, a second, longer term feeling builds up, stops people from wanting to work, and doesn’t go away with short rests.

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Activities in youth impact brain as it ages

Because of the Alzheimer’s and dementia in my family in previous generations, the subject of any activity that might help (or have helped) my aging brain is high on my list of priorities.

Human DNA – and this also applies to mice – contains thousands of genes. However, it is not only the genetic blueprint that is decisive for the function of a cell and whether it is healthy or not, but above all which genes can be switched on or off. Aging, living conditions and behavior are known to influence this ability to activate genes. The phenomenon, referred to as “epigenetics”, was the focus of the current study. For this, researchers including Dr. Sara Zocher and Prof. Gerd Kempermann examined mice that had grown up in different environments: One group of animals experienced, from a young age, an “enriched” environment with toys and tunnel tubes. The rodents of a second group did not have such occupational opportunities.

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Attachments to the DNA

When the scientists examined the genome, they found that in those mice that grew up in the stimulating environment, there was, with age, only a relatively small change in certain chemical tags of the DNA. In mice from the low-stimulus environment, these changes were much more pronounced – in comparison between young and older animals. “We registered so-called methyl groups, which stick to the DNA,” explains Gerd Kempermann, speaker for the DZNE’s Dresden site, DZNE research group leader and also a scientist at the CRTD. “These chemical attachments do not alter the genetic information per se. Rather, they influence whether individual genes can be activated or not.”

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Protein Toxicity involved in Alzheimer’s triggered by a chemical ‘switch’

Researchers from Tokyo Metropolitan University have discovered that a specific chemical feature of a key protein known as tau may cause it to accumulate in the brain and trigger illnesses like Alzheimer’s. They found that disulfide bonds on certain amino acids act to stabilize tau and cause it to accumulate, an effect that got worse with increased oxidative stress. The identification of chemical targets triggering tau accumulation may lead to breakthrough treatments.

Tau proteins with cysteine groups bearing thiol groups (S) undergo chemical changes under oxidative stress to form disulfide bonds, making a toxic mutant of the tau protein that can aggregate. These go on to cause neural degeneration. Antioxidants can help reduce these back to thiols; these normal tau proteins can then be naturally cleared away by the cell. Illustration courtesy of Tokyo Metropolitan University

The tau protein is key to the healthy function of biological cells. It helps form and stabilize microtubules, the thin filaments that crisscross cell interiors to help keep them structurally rigid and provide ‘highways’ to shuttle molecules between organelles. However, when they are not formed correctly, they can accumulate and form sticky clumps. In the brain, these aggregates block the firing of neurons and cause a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases known as tauopathies, one of which is Alzheimer’s disease. It is vastly important that scientists find the ‘switch’ that transforms tau from an indispensable part of cell function to a deadly pathology.

A team led by Associate Professor Kanae Ando of Tokyo Metropolitan University has been using model organisms like the Drosophila fruit fly to uncover how specific features of the tau protein cause it to stop working properly. Flies can be genetically altered to express the same tau protein as in humans. By systematically modifying parts of the gene encoding for tau, they have been trying to pinpoint how certain features of mutant tau proteins affect their behavior.

In their most recent work, they found that alterations to amino acid residues in the protein known as cysteines in two different locations (C291 and C322) had a drastic effect on the amount and toxicity of tau. In a further breakthrough, the team pinned down the specific chemical feature responsible for making them toxic to normal cell function, that is, disulfide bonds formed by these cysteine groups. The toxic accumulation of tau got worse when cells were put in an environment with elevated levels of reactive oxygen species, as thiol groups on the cysteines were oxidized to form disulfide links. Biochemical environments with elevated oxidative stress are similar to those seen in patients with tauopathies. The co-expression of antioxidants to counter this effect helped natural processes clear away tau proteins, resulting in dramatically lower tau levels.

The team hope that knowledge of exactly which chemical groups are responsible for tau toxicity may lead to novel therapies which reduce or prevent tau accumulation, helping sufferers of tauopathies around the world.

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‘Rejuvenating’ the Alzheimer’s brain

Alzheimer’s disease is the main cause of dementia and current therapeutic strategies cannot prevent, slow down or cure the pathology. The disease is characterized by memory loss, caused by the degeneration and death of neuronal cells in several regions of the brain, including the hippocampus, which is where memories are initially formed. Researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN) have identified a small molecule that can be used to rejuvenate the brain and counteract the memory loss.

New cells in old brains

The presence of adult-born cells in the hippocampus of old people was recently demonstrated in scientific studies. It suggests that, generally speaking, the so-called process of adult neurogenesis is sustained throughout adulthood. Adult neurogenesis is linked to several aspects of cognition and memory in both animal models and humans, and it was reported to sharply decrease in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers also found that higher levels of adult neurogenesis in these patients seem to correlate with better cognitive performance before death. “This could suggest that the adult-born neurons in our brain may contribute to a sort of cognitive reserve that could later on provide higher resilience to memory loss”, says Evgenia Salta, group leader at the NIN. Therefore, researchers from the NIN investigated if giving a boost to adult neurogenesis could help prevent or improve dementia in Alzheimer’s disease.

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Is it normal aging or early signs of dementia?

Because I have people on both sides of my family who have suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia, I know I am particularly sensitive to my cognitive state. But, I believe that is typical of everyone over 50 years old.

Misplacing keys. Forgetting names. Struggling to find the right word. Walking into a room and forgetting why.

Are these early signs of dementia? Or normal signs of aging?

It all depends on the circumstances, health experts say. To distinguish between changes associated with typical aging and concerning signs of cognitive loss requires a deeper look.

“Instead of thinking about things in terms of what is a sign of dementia, I would ask, ‘What is the situation in which those signs appear?'” said Dr. Jeffrey Keller, founder and director of the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “It’s how the brain functions in response to a challenge that demonstrates early changes that can lead to dementia.”

In other words, a person experiencing normal aging may experience some memory lapses, he said. But more important than whether they’ve misplaced their keys is whether they’re able to retrace their steps to find them. Or whether they can retain information long enough to carry out a multi-part task, such as filling out medical or tax forms, even if interrupted while doing so.

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Body Weight Has Surprising, Alarming Impact on Brain Function

Higher BMI is linked to decreased cerebral blood flow, which is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and mental illness, according to a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Diseast (JAD).

As a person’s weight goes up, all regions of the brain go down in activity and blood flow, according to a new brain imaging study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. One of the largest studies linking obesity with brain dysfunction, scientists analyzed over 35,000 functional neuro-imaging scans using single-photon emission computerized tomography from more than 17,000 individuals to measure blood flow and brain activity. 

3D renderings of blood flow averaged across normal BMI (BMI = 23),
overweight (BMI = 29), and obese (BMI = 37) men, each 40 years of age (credit: Amen Clinics)

Low cerebral blood flow is the #1 brain imaging predictor that a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease. It is also associated with depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury, addiction, suicide, and other conditions. “This study shows that being overweight or obese seriously impacts brain activity and increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease as well as many other psychiatric and cognitive conditions,” explained Daniel G. Amen, MD, the study’s lead author and founder of Amen Clinics, one of the leading brain-centered mental health clinics in the United States. 

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Lifestyle often influential in Alzheimer’s patients – Study

For years, research to pin down the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s Disease has been focused on plaque found to be building up in the brain in AD patients. But treatments targeted at breaking down that buildup have been ineffective in restoring cognitive function, suggesting that the buildup may be a side effect of AD and not the cause itself.

A new study led by a team of Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers finds novel cellular-level support for an alternate theory that is growing in strength: Alzheimer’s could actually be a result of metabolic dysfunction in the brain. In other words, there is growing evidence that diet and lifestyle are at the heart of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Alzheimer’s Disease is increasingly being referred to as insulin resistance of the brain or Type 3 Diabetes,” said senior study author Benjamin Bikman, a professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU. “Our research shows there is likely a lifestyle origin to the disease, at least to some degree.”

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Dementia linked to increased pain years before diagnosis – HHS

People with dementia may experience increased levels of pain 16 years before their diagnosis, according to new research. The study, funded in part by NIA and published in Pain, is the first to examine the link between pain and dementia over an extended period.

Dementia and chronic pain both cause changes to the brain and can affect a person’s brain health. Although many people who have dementia also have chronic pain, it is unclear whether chronic pain causes or accelerates the onset of dementia, is a symptom of dementia, or is simply associated with dementia because both are caused by some other factor. The new study, led by researchers at Université de Paris, examined the timeline of the association between dementia and self-reported pain by analyzing data from a study that has been gathering data on participants for as many as 27 years.

The researchers used data from the Whitehall II study, a long-term study of health in British government employees. Participants were between the ages of 35 and 55 when they enrolled in the study. Using surveys conducted multiple times over the course of the study, the researchers measured two aspects of participant-reported pain: pain intensity, which is how much bodily pain a participant experiences, and pain interference, which is how much a participant’s pain affects his or her daily activities. They used electronic health records to determine whether (and when) participants were diagnosed with dementia.

Out of 9,046 participants, 567 developed dementia during the period of observation. People who were diagnosed with dementia reported slightly more pain as early as 16 years before their diagnosis, driven mostly by differences in pain interference. These participants reported steadily increasing pain levels relative to those who were never diagnosed with dementia. At the time of diagnosis, people with dementia reported significantly more pain than people without dementia.

The researchers note that, because the brain changes associated with dementia start decades before diagnosis, it is unlikely that pain causes or increases the risk of dementia. Instead, they suggest that chronic pain might be an early symptom of dementia or simply correlated with dementia. Future studies that include data on the cause, type, location, and characteristics of pain and the type and seriousness of a patient’s dementia could help define in more detail the link between dementia and pain.

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Key tips to a healthy lifestyle

One picture us worth a thousand words. In this case, I think the infographic counts for even more. I hope this is all old news to you and you are living it fully. As an 81 year old I can tell you that I am certainly glad to have adopted my healthy lifestyle for the past 10 years. It’s never too late. The body is an organic machine which means there is constant regeneration going on. Use it to your advantage.

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Survey finds stress-related dental conditions continue to increase

As if there weren’t enough difficulties related to the pandemic, it seems that the stress we are experiencing is affecting our dental as well as our mental health.

More than 70 percent of dentists surveyed by the American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute are seeing an increase of patients experiencing teeth grinding and clenching, conditions often associated with stress. This is an increase from ADA data released in the fall that showed just under 60 percent of dentists had seen an increase among their patients.

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“Our polling has served as a barometer for pandemic stress affecting patients and communities seen through the eyes of dentists,” said Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Institute. “The increase over time suggests stress-related conditions have become substantially more prevalent since the onset of COVID-19.”

The survey also found a little more than 60 percent of dentists saw an increase in other stress-related dental conditions including chipped and cracked teeth and TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder) symptoms such as headaches and jaw pain.

“As the pandemic continues, dentists are seeing stress-related dental conditions more and more,” said Marcelo Araujo, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., ADA chief science officer. “It’s more important than ever for people to maintain their dental health, including seeing the dentist regularly to address any issues that could have long-term impact.”

Despite speculation from recent news reports that frequent mask-wearing may impact dental health and cause “mask mouth,” the survey found no meaningful change in the prevalence reported for conditions such as bad breath and dry mouth compared to pre-pandemic.

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Noncognitive Skills—Distinct from Cognitive Abilities— Important to Success Across the Life Course

Noncognitive skills and cognitive abilities are both important contributors to educational attainment—the number of years of formal schooling that a person completes—and lead to success across the life course, according to a new study from an international team led by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, the University of Texas at Austin, and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The research provides evidence for the idea that inheriting genes that affect things other than cognitive ability are important for understanding differences in people’s life outcomes. Until now there had been questions about what these noncognitive skills are and how much they really matter for life outcomes. The new findings are published in the journal Nature Genetics.

“Genetic studies of educational attainment were initiated with the goal of identifying genes that influenced cognitive abilities. They’ve had some success in doing that. But it turns out they’ve also identified genetics that influence a range of other skills and characteristics,” said Daniel Belsky, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology. ”What was most surprising to me about our results was that these noncognitive skills contributed just as much to the heritability of educational attainment as cognitive ability.” Of the total genetic influence on educational attainment, referred to as the heritability, cognitive abilities accounted for 43 percent and noncognitive skills accounted for 57 percent. 

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